Rob Reiner was still known as a comedic filmmaker when he tackled Stand by Me, based on a nostalgic Stephen King story that ran dead-set against the author’s own reputation as a scare master. It turned out to be one of the best King adaptations to date, with strong performances from a very young Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, Corey Feldman and the late River Phoenix as a quartet of young boys who set out into the woods near their town to find a purported body. (The real scene-stealer, though, is Kiefer Sutherland as their slightly older nemesis… signaling a very interesting career to follow.) The movie was released today in 1986.
Over in the Land Down Under, we have Picnic at Hanging Rock, in which a group of turn-of-the-century schoolgirls and their teacher mysteriously vanish on an outing to an Australian national park. It not only cemented director Peter Weir’s status as a filmmaker of note, but heralded the emergence of Australian cinema as a major international force: paving the way for a bevvy of notable films to follow. It opened in its native Australia today in 1975.
Though I prefer the 1937 version of A Star is Born, there’s a lot to recommend in the remake: featuring a comeback turn from Judy Garland as a singer on the rise and James Mason as her fading, alcoholic mentor. Both actors scored Oscar nominations and the film is regarded as one of the seminal musicals of the 1950s. It opened today in 1954.
When talking about films that cemented a movement, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention My Own Private Idaho, Gus Van Sant’s oddball retelling of Henry IV in the world of gay street hustlers. Besides accelerating the indie film trend that began with Sex, Lies and Video Tape, it brought critical acclaim for both the late River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, who demonstrated for the first time that he could be more than Ted Theodore Logan. My Own Private Idaho opened today in 1991.
We’ll close with Devil in a Blue Dress, Carl Franklin’s exquisite neo-noir that filters race relations in post-war Los Angeles through a shady election, a beautiful woman (Jennifer Beals), and a cynical burgeoning detective (Denzel Washington) seeking answers before it costs him everything. Washington is fantastic as always, but the real scene-stealer is Don Cheadle, in a star-making turn as Washington’s sociopathic wingman. Devil in a Blue Dress opened today in 1995.